The primary ingredient of wine might be grapes, but that doesn't always mean that they are suitable for vegetarians or vegans.
The process of fining, which makes our wines beautiful and clear ready for the bottle, pulls out anything left in the wine that we don't want floating about. It's not an essential process, but it gives clarity to wine that might otherwise be hazy. Some of the most common fining agents include egg whites, gelatine, isinglass (fish bladder), casein (milk protein), fiber from crustacean shells, fish oil and even bone marrow.
Whilst some of these might be suitable for vegetarians, it's more tricky if you are looking for a vegan wine. There are plenty of alternative fining agents including carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaques; the tricky part is whether the wine your drinking used these or the ones containing animal products.
So how do I find vegan and vegetarian wine?
Many labels for wine do not include their ingredients or the 'suitable for vegetarians/vegans' note that you would expect to find on other groceries. The way to ensure that you are absolutely getting a vegan wine is to look for one that is either 'unfiltered' or 'unfined'. These may be difficult to find in stores but are more widely available direct from wineries or online retailers, although they may come with a hefty price tag at times.
My absolute top tip for getting hold of great vegan and vegetarian wines, as with all wine buying, is to get know someone where you're buying your wine and ask them for help. This doesn't have to be going to a wine merchant, although it's usually my choice, because supermarkets have trained staff who work in the wine aisles and they will be ready to help you. Get to know them. Tell them what you like and what you don't. If you're looking to taste, get to a wine merchant and ask them to open up a bottle for you. Don't be shy about this; they want you to buy and you won't buy unless you try! If you really love wine, I strongly encourage you to get to the point where the people you buy wine from see you walking in and they greet you by name. They'll always find you a great deal, a great bottle or just be happy to chat about what you love!
If you're more of an online shopper and you're thinking 'I'm never going to go into a wine shop that often', have no fear. With more and more people cutting animal products out of their diets, the supermarkets are starting to make it easier to pick up vegan and vegetarian wines. Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Co-op allow you to filter your search by both vegan and vegetarian options. Wine retailer Majestic and Amazon will do the same. Aldi and Asda wines do have the information online, but you need to check the information individually rather than using a search feature. Lidl do not yet share this information for their wines.
Lots of the supermarkets offered vegan wines in their own ranges, meaning that it's no longer a case of looking for an expensive unfined bottle or going out of your way to a wine retailer and coming back empty handed.
Barnivore offer a comprehensive list of vegan wines and allow you to search and check what you are buying. This is a great resource if you want to try something and the label just isn't giving you the info that you need.
Can you give some recommendations?
I'm recommending 3 vegan wines (which will of course be vegetarian too). I actually didn't know that these wines were vegan but they are all wines that I would consider 'house wines' at Toasting Books HQ and that I'm picking up on a regular basis.
White - The Cup And Rings Albariño Sobre Lias 2013/2014 Valedorras
This is a super versatile white wine with tropical flavours and a fresh, green flavour. It cuts through creaminess and spiciness with equal fervour. Its distinctive enough that you'll serve it to oohs and ahhs but clean enough that no-one could object.
Buy it here.
Red - Dawn Patrol Syrah Grenache
This is a peppery, woody, fruity wine that's perfect in autumn next to the fire but would stand up well to a summer barbecue as well.
Buy it here.
Sparkling - Sainsbury's Fairtrade Rosé Moscato, Taste the Difference
This is a little bit of a crowd divider but go with me. It's a sweet, sparkling rosé that you can drink outside in the summer months or serve with a dessert. This one might actually be a little bit too easy drinking, so don't forget to hydrate.
Buy it here.
Tried any of these wines? Got questions? Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram now!